Tag Archives: investment advice

Bernanke Says 2008 Worse Than Great Depression

FDRMy Comments: Ben Bernancke is no longer Chairman of the Federal Reserve. However, before he became chairman he was widely recognized as a world class economist and an expert of the Great Depression. It was that expertise that gave him so much credibility as he maneuvered the Fed through 2008-2009 until earlier this year.

There is no question that many of us are still hurting. The gap between the haves and the have nots is increasing. The ability of many of us to spend money like we used to is limited, which to some degree keeps recovery uncertain.

There is blame to go around, but not because anyone or sector of the economy was and is evil. That presumes a conspiracy involving thousands of people which is enough to debunk that idea. Bad things happen from time to time. There is little point in worrying about the past; we can only influence the future, but an understanding of the dynamics that led to the mess may be helpful.

Brian Gilmartin, CFA, Aug. 28, 2014

http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2014/08/26/2008-meltdown-was-worse-than-great-depression-bernanke-says/

The above link was copied and pasted from a Real Time Economics Wall Street Journal tweet yesterday (8/26), after Gentle Ben testified in the AIG litigation recently.

I think former Fed Chair Bernanke was right in concluding that 2008′s recession, if left to run its course, would have been a far greater calamity for the US economy than the Great Depression, but for different reasons:

1.) The money markets and the commercial paper market was at real risk of failure, which means S&P 500 companies couldn’t have rolled short-term high quality CP;

2.) Far more Americans through 401(k)s and pensions, had exposure to the stock and bond markets than Americans had in the late 1920′s and early 1930′s;

3.) A 70 year bull market in home prices came to a crashing halt, the first national real estate depressions since the 1930′s. While the US economy was thought to be a primarily agrarian economy during the Great Depression, single-family homes as a percentage of household net worth, would have been far greater in 2007 – 2008 than in the 1930′s;

4.) The truly shocking action for me wasn’t the Lehman default or even the Bear Stearns default, but the drop in Northern Trust’s and State Street’s stock in late September, early October, 2008. Northern Trust traded up to $88 in September ’08 only to collapse to $33 within a two week time frame. NTRS and STT are “global custodian” banks and thus are huge custodians (recordkeepers) for corporate pension plans and such, with far bigger assets in custody and administration than assets under management. If The Reserve Fund had broken the buck, there would have been true calamity in the Street and although it is simply a guess, I would have thought that the US unemployment rate would have seen 50% easily, at least over the near term;

5.) The Reserve Fund was, at that time (I believe) in 2008, one of the world’s largest money market funds, and if the Reserve Fund had “broken the buck” which means that if the Reserve Fund’s NAV had moved below $1 per share, it could have resulted in a run on money markets that would have made the bank run and the Bailey Building & Loan run (“It’s A Wonderful Life”) look like a day in the park. (The aftermath of what happened with the Reserve Fund in 2008 is that today, the SEC is contemplating and is close to letting money market fund NAVs (net asset values) float. The thought is that the $1 money market price creates a “moral hazard” and what I told a client recently is that what retail investors will likely wind up with is whole array of “ultra-short” bond funds as money market funds, which do fluctuate minimally in price.)

6.) Although some of the fiscal policy has been horrid since 2008, I do think that one of the root issues in the economic recovery following 2008 has been the true “shock” of the drop in real estate and household wealth. Remember consumption is 2/3rd’s of GDP and with the capital markets and the real estate markets, being two of the greatest wealth-creation vehicles post WWII (not to mention the value of an education), it is taking years for the consumer to restore their savings and confidence.

7.) The fact that “disinflation” (a declining rate of inflation) and deflation continue to be an issue 5 years after the stock market low and the substantial economic recovery, is indicative of lingering overcapacity. Part of that is due to the life-cycle of technology which has dramatically accelerated productivity and shortened tech product cycles (not to mention kept a lid on inflation) and part could be demographics and the Aging of America (it is a bigger debate);

8.) The Great Mistake in the 1930′s by the Federal Reserve is that they actually withdrew liquidity sometime in 1935 – 1936, which resulted in another downturn in the US economy in the late 1930′s just prior to WWII. In other words, Fed policy errors actually exacerbated the Great Depression, rather than shorten it. Both Janet Yellen (I’m sure), just like Ben Bernanke are / were both aware of the Fed’s policy mistakes and are obviously loathe to make the same mistake. The fact that there isn’t a meaningful inflation today just makes the Fed’s ability to maintain ZIRP (zero interest rate policy) and low rates that much easier. However it will end at some point, and we will get some inflation, I would suspect.

Most intelligent investors blame leverage on the 2008 collapse, but I think it was far more involved than that. It just wasn’t that simple.

In client meetings the last few years, I’ve been telling clients that there is less than a 5% chance that they will see the 2008 confluence of events happen again in their lifetime (probably less).

Certainly I could be wrong, but I continue to think the US economy, and the US stock market, particularly the S&P 500 is in a perfect glide slope of healthy, albeit subdued growth, low inflation, and a healthy respect for stock volatility and negative sentiment on the part of retail investors.

One commentator from PIMCO called it the “Goldilocks economy” and the metaphor seems appropriate.
We will see S&P 500 corrections over time, but I will bet in 10 years that we will look back and see this period of time as similar to post WWII economic stability and growth. Perhaps that conclusion is somewhat of a stretch given the demographics of the US economy today, but we’ll see.

Thanks for reading today. We’ve been contemplating this commentary on 2008 for some time. Watching NTRS and STT trade in late September, early October, 2008 was one of the few times, I’ve felt true fear watching the stock market. The potential collapse of the money market as was being telegraphed by the global custodian banks, would have been a horrific scenario to conceive, let alone experience.

When all the books are written about the “near Great Collapse of 2008″ after 20 – 30 years of hindsight, I do think Ben Bernanke, then Treasury-Secretary Hank Paulson, and Tim Geithner will be due a huge debt of gratitude.
For a few days/weeks, educated American’s had a brief look into the abyss. It won’t be forgotten by those of us that sat through it.

Don’t Fight the U.S. Treasury Rally

USA EconomyMy Comments: We’ve been living in a low interest rate environment for some years now. The general consensus has been that they can’t get any lower and that the Fed will push them up if and when the US economy starts to see any inflationary pressure.

I know that clients, who for years depended on bond yield to satisfy their need for monthly income, have suffered. Folks who want the guarantees offered by Certificates of Deposit have despaired when they know they will only generate about 1% per year. Common wisdom tells many of us that safe investments are government issued bonds. And then they look at the S&P500 over the past few years and decide 20% is normal.

Now here is an article by a respected economist that tells us that interest rates can go lower. This is spite of negative interest rates in Japan where the central bank CHARGES you for buying from them. If you know what’s going on, please let me know.

By Scott Minerd, Chairman of Investments and Global CIO

“U.S. Interest Rates Could Head Significantly Lower”

The consensus among market watchers last September was that, with U.S. interest rates so low and the U.S. Federal Reserve (the Fed) about to withdraw stimulus, interest rates would trend higher. I took a different view, writing in a commentary that “10-year rates may be heading back to 2.25 percent or lower.”

When 10-year Treasury yields ended 2013 at 3.02 percent, some may have thought I had taken the wrong end of the bet. But in early August, 10-year Treasury yields went as low as 2.35 percent and I believe the path of least resistance on interest rates is still lower.

A number of factors have helped push Treasury yields lower. With yields on German 10-year Bunds dipping under 1 percent for the first time and Japanese government bonds yielding around 50 basis points, Treasuries look comparatively attractive. Add to that the perception that both the yen and euro are a one-way bet toward depreciation and it is reasonable to expect that international capital will continue flowing toward the U.S., pressuring Treasury yields down as quantitative easing draws to an end.

Tensions from Ukraine to Iraq have added to a flight-to-quality trade, boosting demand for U.S. Treasuries. With the size of incremental U.S. government borrowing also expected to decline because of shrinking federal budget deficits, Treasury yields could move lower.

Reduce Rate Risk

My original forecast of 2.0 to 2.25 percent still seems reasonable. Nevertheless, markets do not move in straight lines, so yields could retrace to 2.5 percent in the near term. Ultimately, as rates head back toward 2 percent portfolio managers should use the rally to reduce interest rate risk.
2014 gov bond rate history

As anyone experienced in investing in the U.S. mortgage market knows there is a phenomenon that traders call the “refi bid.” When interest rates fall, a larger percentage of mortgages become economically attractive to refinance at a lower interest rate.

Whenever a threshold is breached where a large amount of mortgages make attractive refinancing candidates, prepayments spike up dramatically and portfolios that own mortgages have a sudden surge in cash. This causes portfolio duration to shorten and leads to a need to buy longer duration assets in order to maintain the target portfolio duration. This demand surge can result in a sudden and dramatic decline in rates.

Currently, I estimate that the next “refi level” will hit when the 10-year Treasury yield drops to about 2.25 percent.

An unusual feature of this potential wave of mortgage refinancing is that the vast majority of U.S. mortgages are on the cusp of being candidates for refinancing, given the relative stability of mortgage rates over the past year or so. Additionally, there is one dominant holder of these mortgage securities that has vowed to reinvest in new mortgages as prepayments come in—the Fed.

Traditionally, in a refinancing rally, spreads on mortgage-backed securities (MBS) widen due to increased prepayment risk and expected increases in supply. Spreads will not widen on this occasion to the same extent as during previous refi rallies for a number of technical reasons.

Among those reasons is that the Fed, the biggest mortgage investor on the block, has made clear it will reinvest principal repayments dollar for dollar. Normally, the widening in mortgage spreads mutes the impact of the rate decline on mortgage rates, slowing the pace of refinancing.

This time, advertised mortgage rates are likely to fall more rapidly than in prior refi experiences.

Is It Too Late To Get Back In?

080519_USEconomy1My Comments: This is a writer I’ve learned to enjoy over the past several months. I’ve used his articles before and I do so here again. He makes such good sense.

posted by Jeffrey Dow Jones July 17,2014 in Cognitive Concord

I get all sorts of questions from all sorts of different investors. As strange as it seems, this is one of the most common right now. Is it too late? Clearly the last bear market had a permanent effect on investor psychology. Nobody was asking this question in 2006 or 2007.

The question doesn’t always take this exact form. Frequently I hear, “Isn’t the market too expensive here?”, or, “The market can’t possibly keep going up, can it?” or its straightforward non-question variant, “I hate the market because it’s too expensive.”

Those are all different ways of talking about the same basic concept. The market has run a long way and investors have a new type of uncertainty about how much longer it can keep running.

Did I miss it?

Is it too late?

The simple answer is that, no, it’s not too late to get in. The market can keep running, and running, and running… and running.

Have you ever looked at a 100 year Dow chart? The trajectory is pretty clear. If you have a sufficiently long horizon and truly don’t care about picking tops or bottoms then now is as good a time to buy as any.

CONTINUE-READING

Gauging The Stock Market With The Tocalino Index

bruegel-wedding-dance-ouMy Comments: Football season is about to start, Ukraine is still bothered by the Russians, and Ferguson, Missouri is still a mess. So here I am talking about the stock market and an index I have never heard of before. I suspect you haven’t either.

But there is reference here to the Misery Index, which I have heard of, though never followed. It’s the sum of the unemployment rate and rate of inflation. Right now it’s pretty low in historical terms and getting lower. That’s good.

My next question has to do with why so many of us think the world is coming to an end. Well, maybe it is, but I doubt it. A changed world, definitely, but one we must adapt to and stop with the constant message of doom.

By Sebastiao Buck Tocalino, August 12, 2014

Summary
• Here I’m gauging the performance of the Dow Jones Industrial Average with the Help of the Tocalino Index (applying demographics to a variation on Arthur Melvin Okun’s Misery Index).
• The point that stands out recently is the noticeable gap between the rapid rise of the Dow Jones index and the lagging behavior of my own indicator from 2009 onward.
• The market seems to be feeding more on some sort of paranoia or complacency from the lack of investment alternatives than any demographic, business and economic fundamentals could ever support.

Among the many indicators that track the health of the economy, two are very popular due to the obvious affliction they may inflict on all of us regular Joes and Janes. They are: the inflation rate and the unemployment rate. Between the two of them, inflation is often the most conspicuous. After all, we routinely have to reach for our wallets to pay for our daily needs and those of our children, including education and a variety of goods and services. But, if the unemployment rate is somewhat less followed by those who hold on to a steady job, it is still the most distressing for the less fortunate ones who are out of work!

Arthur Melvin Okun was a professor of economics at the famous Yale University, later he was also an important economic advisor to presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Besides “Okun’s Law,” another well-known contribution of his to the tracking of economic trends was the Misery Index. Its formulation could not be any simpler or more intuitive: it was just the sum of the unemployment rate and the inflation rate. Naturally, to be out of work and having to cope with an escalating cost of life is a sheer disastrous situation leading to social distress, therefore the obvious choice of name for this indicator: the Misery Index.

(Some economists may say that, with a delay of one year or so, this Misery Index, with its implicit social distress, would be a contributing factor to swings in the rate of crimes. I tend to believe that crime is still more related to cultural issues.)

Personally, I don’t usually pay much attention to this index and believe that few people actually do. Though we pay close attention to its two constituents separately. But for some time recently, I have been glancing at the Misery Index and its downward trajectory in the U.S. It is clear that, in spite of all the insane efforts in printing money and keeping real interest rates negative and punitive for the more cautious and conservative majority of savers, inflation is still modest and below the target aimed by the FOMC and the Federal Reserve. By the end of June, the twelve-month inflation climbed a tad higher at 2.07%. Data relative to the closing of July is scheduled to be released only on Aug. 19.

At the closing of June, to the cheers of everyone, the unemployment rate had also fallen to 6.1%. It did rise slightly to 6.2% in July, as reported on Aug. 1.

Trying to avoid much of the noise in inflation data, I will adopt from now on the 12-month core inflation rate, which excludes the more disruptive cost swings of food and energy (due to the villainy of oil prices). The core inflation for the 12 months ended last June was of 1.93%. By using that same month’s unemployment rate of 6.1%, the sum has resulted in an 8.03% Misery Index.
Misery Index

CONTINUE-READING

9 Reasons Consumers Need Advisors More Than Ever

My Comments: This is a self-serving blog post. While I should apologize for this, there are millions of Americans who will find themselves looking for financial freedom in the years to come and unless they have developed the necessary skill sets, they will find themselves behind the curve in a big way. Somebody has to step up and provide good advice. I like to think of myself as one of those with good advice.

The title says there are 9 reasons here but I didn’t count to see if it was true. I simply found some meaningful truths about us and how people in my profession can help others. Oh, and make a meaningful living for ourselves as the years pass. That’s always a good thing.

I don’t share the underlying gloom that motivates Van Mueller, but there are truths in what he says. As consumers, it’s what we do with information that will make the difference.

Aug 13, 2014 | By Paul Wilson

Van Mueller kicked off the 2014 Advisor Network Summit in Las Vegas.

“Right now we are in the middle of the greatest opportunity in the history of the industry. Every single institution we think we can depend on won’t be there in the future. We’re not in a recovery – the government is printing trillions of dollars. Soon, you’re going to see crashes in stocks, bonds and real estate markets.

The world just went $100 trillion in debt. The U.S. is $17 trillion in debt, but the rest of the world is $83 trillion in debt – there’s no one to borrow from. We’re so close to a calamity and the only people who can help are in this room.”

“The attention span of an average American is 12 seconds. No commercial is longer than 30 seconds now because people don’t pay attention that long.

Nobody cares about you; it’s about them. Customers tell me, ‘You’re the smartest advisor I know.’ But I don’t know anything other than how to ask what matters to people.”

“Don’t you think any politician would fix the economy if they could? But no one knows what’s coming next.

Ask your clients, ‘If nobody knows what’s going to happen, should you take a lot of risk and put your money in danger or develop a strategy that will keep your money safe and every time something bad happens, you take advantage of it?’

Politics isn’t going to fix this; it’s a math problem. It’s about taking responsibility for our own lives. Show people they can stay in control. We sell control.”

“45 percent of all working Americans have nothing saved for retirement. When you are talking with affluent prospects, ask them, ‘Do you think our government is going to let those people starve? No. How will they help them? They’re coming after those who have money.’ You’re running out of time to take control of your money and lives.”

“Half of Americans can’t afford their current home. One little downturn, and you’re talking about a house of cards. Tell your customers, ‘It doesn’t have to happen to you.’”

“Some people say, ‘This sounds like a lot of doom and gloom.’ Many people give up and say, ‘There’s nothing I can do.’ Tell them, ‘Have there ever been bad times before? During those bad times, did some people make money? Was it those who were prepared or those who winged it? Which do you want to be?‘”

“There was no such thing as the good old days. This is the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of the U.S. It’s the greatest time ever to be an agent. You are not each other’s enemies. Find fellow advisors and get better.”

3 Essentials Missing From Many Retirement Plans

retirement-exit-2My Comments: One thing I’ve learned over the years is that people in my profession have a profound bias when it comes to trying to explain the dynamics of money. We include a lot of self promotion.

I’ve also learned that I’m not immune to this bias. Some of this is justified since probably 95% of the target population is misinformed about those same dynamics. While they should be willing to learn all they need to know so they can do it themselves, those same 95% will not or cannot apply the necessary time and energy. So the issue becomes, “To Whom Do We Turn for Help?”. If I’m going to survive, I have to focus on those who need help.

I’m doing the best I can to bring you stuff like this to help you better understand the background noise.

Erika Rawes / July 07, 2014

Work is a major part of our lives. From the moment we reach adulthood (and sometimes even before adulthood), most of us find a job and we work for the next 40 or 50 years until it’s time to retire. Retirement is thought to be a sort reward for working hard during all of those years. We accumulate savings so we can enjoy those final chapters in our lives without having to worry about money, as for the average person, money is a daily concern.

Perhaps, retirement savings should be as easy as putting away a percentage of our income into a savings fund and then collecting small increments of this savings once we retire — up the mountain and then back down. It’s not exactly that simple, however. Tax legislation, the various types of retirement accounts, contribution limits, Social Security laws, and pricey medical care make this simple concept — save now so we can enjoy retirement later — much more complicated.

Since we have so many factors to consider — all of which have a role in determining how well we save, the return we earn, and how well we maximize and preserve our money — we try to make the best decisions possible. Lincoln Financial Group conducted a study on the underrated impact of taxes on retirement. In the 2013 study, Lincoln examined the habits, knowledge, and behaviors of individuals between the ages of 62 and 75 with incomes in excess of $100,000.

Using data from the Lincoln Group study, we found a few common must-haves that appear to be missing from a high percentage of retirement plans.

1. Proper Tax Planning

Many future retirees think costs like discretionary expenses and home repairs are the highest costs during retirement. When Lincoln asked pre-retirees about what they thought their highest expenses would be during retirement, the top answers among survey respondents were home mortgages, healthcare, and travel and leisure.

In reality, around $1 out of every $3 spent by high-income retirees goes to taxes. Taxes are the largest source of spending for retirees in the above $100,000 earnings group, accounting for 31.38% of overall spending.

Retirement SurprisesWhen Lincoln asked retirees about their biggest surprise expenses, taxes were the again most common answer. The average marginal federal tax rate among the survey respondents was 26 percent, and the state rate was 7 percent. Forty percent of survey respondents stated taxes were higher than they expected and even with rates at these levels, 23 percent of respondents stated they were doing nothing to reduce their taxes.

2. A Financial Advisor
With the recent recession resulting in losses for millions and changing legislation impacting several facets of retirement planning, discussing a retirement plan with a financial advisor is a must. A good advisor compares every plausible scenario, and finds the most profitable plan for each individual. This, of course, is different for everyone.

For instance, people often hear about how converting to a Roth IRA is an effective tactic for minimizing tax liability. The Lincoln study found that only 30 percent of retirees were familiar with Roth IRA conversion rules. An advisor can help sort through the information as converting isn’t always best for everyone and even when it is an ideal choice, gradual conversion may be a more effective option.

Those who use a financial advisor have a higher level of confidence in their retirement plan than those who do not use an advisor. The study found that 75 percent of higher income pre-retirees who use an advisor had confidence in their retirement savings, compared to only 59 percent who do not use a financial advisor.

Most pre-retirees simply do not have the time to devote to learning every rule and regulation. Those with a good financial advisor have a resource available to answer their inquiries and educate them on general topics, like tax policy and withdrawal strategy, and also on investor-unique topics, like conversion and account choice.

3. Knowledge and Mindset
The income and spending habits of a retiree are different than those of a working individual. Bureau of Labor Statistics‘ spending data indicates housing is the largest expense for consumer units during their working years. During these years, transportation, personal insurance, and pension costs are also high. The primary source of income are wages and salaries, and investment and dividend incomes account for only a small percentage of annual income for the average worker.

During retirement, Social Security disbursements are the most common source of income as 81 percent of survey respondents cited SS as a primary income source. Sixty-five percent of those surveyed cited salaries as a main income source, indicating a large percentage of working retirees. Pension and retirement plan distributions and investment income were also among the most common sources of income for retirees.

As for spending during retirement, federal income tax is the highest expense for retirees, with the average person in the survey spending $16,625 annually. A mortgage was second on the list, followed by transportation, food, and then real estate taxes. The retirees surveyed spent more on vacationing than they did on healthcare.

When Lincoln compared the retirees’ anticipated spending to their actual spending, there were several large discrepancies. Actual spending on healthcare ended up being significantly higher than the retirees projected, as did spending on household repairs and expenses.

The transition from a mindset of wealth accumulation to wealth preservation is an adjustment. Since we spend our lives continually earning, living on a set amount is difficult for many and it requires strategic planning. A good plan, in addition to mapping out withdrawals and an exact budget, provides a cushion for the adjustment period, anticipating and allowing for a few mistakes along the way.

10-Year Investing Forecast: Takeaways for Advisors & Clients

investmentsMy Comments: When you look back ten years from now and wonder if this article came anywhere close to reality, you must remember that people are much happier with you if you estimate low returns and reality turns out to be high, rather than the other way around.

The charts are hard to understand, at least they are for me. The short takeaway for us is that what happened in 2008-09 was not within the 5% chance of happening. A meltdown like we had only happens once every 40 – 60 years. Another takeaway is the expected annual return for stocks from the people referenced. The high number is less than 6% annually. If they are right, then it behooves you to find advisors who give you at least a chance to make money in the inevitable down markets. Because the upmarkets are going to be relatively pathetic.

by Allan S. Roth / AUG 4, 2014

We all want to know how stocks and bonds will perform next year and beyond. Unfortunately, forecasts typically give very tight ranges of returns — and often merely predict the past. That may partly explain why investors continue the pattern of buying high and selling low.

The Vanguard Capital Markets Model, which forecasts both returns and risks over the next 10 years, takes a more useful approach. Your clients might prefer to have more precise forecasts, but uncertainty is a reality.

This forecast may help you both design a better portfolio and explain its rationale to your clients. I spoke with Roger Aliaga-Diaz, a principal and senior economist in Vanguard’s Investment Strategy Group, about the model and its implications for investors.

The Vanguard Capital Markets Model’s estimated returns are based on 10,000 simulations. This Monte Carlo analysis runs not only variations of returns but also ranges of risk (standard deviation) and correlations among asset classes.

The “Range of Returns” and “Asset Class Correlations” tables below shows the forecast returns and ranges and the historical correlations.
2014-08-13 Portfolio_roth_8_14
Portfolio_roth_8_14_2

EQUITY EXPECTATIONS

The first takeaway: Across the board, equities are expected to far outpace inflation, which is estimated at 2% annually. As the midpoint in the range of expectations, U.S. stocks are estimated to return 7.7% annually, while international stocks will yield 8.5%.

International stocks were seen as likely to outperform U.S. stocks for a few reasons, says Aliaga-Diaz: International valuations are more attractive and investors are compensated for taking on more risk. The annual standard deviation for international stocks was 20.9%, he points out, compared with 17.6% for U.S. stocks.

Within the bracket of outcomes that Vanguard believes have a 90% probability of occurring, U.S. stocks are shown as returning between a loss of 2% annually and a gain of a whopping 17.7%.

International stocks, by contrast, are seen as returning anywhere from a loss of 3.3% to a 21.1% annualized gain. To put this in perspective: In 10 years, a $1 million investment in U.S. stocks could be worth anywhere from $820,000 to $5.1 million. And the same investment in international stocks could be worth anywhere from $710,000 to $6.8 million.

Not only is that range of returns incredibly large — and only somewhat helpful from a planning perspective — but Vanguard says there is a 10% probability that the actual return will land outside of these ranges. And the downside risk is even worse after you factor in inflation.

The bottom line, of course, is that equity investing is risky — any forecast asserting otherwise would be claiming to have precise (and, needless to say, impossible) foreknowledge of economies, geopolitical events and investor sentiment. Nonetheless, equities offer the best expectation for high future returns.

Clients should also understand the impact of expenses and emotions on these returns. Aliaga-Diaz notes that the projections are geometric asset class returns and don’t include costs, and that even the lowest-cost index funds have some fees. And clients need to stay the course. Even with the least-costly index funds, investors’ returns underperform fund returns — an indication that investors time the market poorly.

FIXED-INCOME INVESTMENTS
Bonds, of course, have lower expected returns with less risk. Vanguard predicts the aggregate bond index of investment-grade bonds will return 2.5% annually — just half a percentage point more than inflation.

The range is much tighter than for stocks, with the 90% confidence interval showing returns ranging between 1.2% and 3.9% annually. Translated again, this suggests that a $1 million investment would be worth anywhere between $1.13 million and $1.47 million after a decade.

Note that these returns are far below those of the last decade, when declining rates were good for bonds. The narrow range of returns for bonds illustrates the role of high-quality bonds; they are more a store of money than a growth vehicle. Hedged international bonds offer similar expected returns and volatility.

Both of these bond classes have little credit risk; increasing credit risk increases correlation with stocks. For example, according to Morningstar, the average bond mutual fund — which is more likely to include bonds of lower credit quality — lost 8% in 2008 while Vanguard’s Total Bond ETF (BND), which follows the Barclays Capital Aggregate Bond Index, gained about 5.1%.

One more note on the inflation forecast: While 2% doesn’t sound unusual, extrapolating the downside shows about a 15% probability of sustained deflation over the next decade. Should that occur, the resulting scenario would be bad for stocks and great for longer-term U.S. government bonds.

CONSTRUCTING A PORTFOLIO
What matters most for clients, of course, are real (after inflation) returns. But to model the impact of inflation, we can’t just deduct two percentage points — because inflation impacts the returns of the asset classes.

The Vanguard model — run for a combination of U.S. and domestic equities, with various maturities of Treasuries and corporate fixed-income securities — looks at various weightings, from conservative to aggressive. The “Portfolio Implications: Real Returns” chart above shows the results.

Because high-quality bonds and equities have low correlation to each other, you’ll note the combined portfolios have less downside than the simple average of stocks and bonds.

The good news is that even a conservative portfolio of only 20% equities is forecast to outpace inflation by 1.7 percentage points annually. And it can still deliver a handsome return if results are high in the range of possible outcomes.

The takeaway here is that clients who have met their goals and have little need to take risk — even those who say they have a high risk tolerance — should consider a high concentration of high-quality bonds. (Think back to March 2009 and ask yourself if clients’ appetite for risk was in fact constant.)

A moderate portfolio of 60% equities is projected to outpace inflation by 4.2 percentage points annually. An aggressive portfolio of 80% stocks does deliver an expected return of 5.4% annually, while the downside is only an extra annualized 0.7 percentage point loss relative to the moderate portfolio.

While this might argue for taking on more risk, few aggressive investors want to stay the course when markets melt down. By my calculations, that portfolio declined by about 31% in 2008; that’s more than two standard deviations away from the mean and should happen only once every 40 years.

HOW MUCH RISK?

Just looking at the numbers, one could conclude that the 80% equity portfolio isn’t that much riskier than the 20% equity portfolio. In real terms, the outcome at the bottom fifth percentile for the 80% equity portfolio loses about 31% of spending power, while the fifth-percentile result for the 20% equity portfolio loses about 22%.

But don’t forget that a fifth-percentile outcome doesn’t measure the so-called black swan event that many said happened in 2008.

What this means for your clients is certainly open for interpretation. This is perhaps the most comprehensive economic model I have reviewed, but even so, it is important to remember that this is only one model.

Vanguard predicts a most likely case of a 5.7% real annual returns for stocks, but other experts are more cautious. In his new book, Rational Expectations, William J. Bernstein predicts a 2% real return for large-cap stocks and 3% for small-cap stocks over the next decade. Rob Arnott, chairman of Research Affiliates, forecasts a 3% real return over the next decade.

My opinion is that the future is even more uncertain than the ranges shown in the Vanguard model — especially on the downside. And as I see it, the world is a less predictable place than ever before.

Allan S. Roth, a Financial Planning contributing writer, is founder of the planning firm Wealth Logic in Colorado Springs, Colo. He also writes for CBS MoneyWatch.com and has taught investing at three universities. Follow him on Twitter at @dull_investing.